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Tory Lockdown Rebels Expect Renewal Of Coronavirus Powers To Pass With Little Commons Resistance

Matt Hancock led the debate on whether the government's coronavirus powers should be extended for another six months (Parliamentlive.TV)

4 min read

Anti-lockdown Conservative MPs are playing down talk of a rebellion on extending emergency coronavirus powers today saying “the sting has come out of this” because of the vaccine rollout.

The government is asking Parliament to renew the Coronavirus Act 2020 for another six months. 

Some backbenchers fear this will lead to restrictions being kept in place well beyond it’s own roadmap to unlock the country, although the government has argued that the extension is necessary to allow for continued sick pay and virtual courts. Lockdown restrictions fall under a different law, the Public Health Act, which expires in June. 

But despite previous votes drawing rebellions of more than 50 Tory MPs, the most prominent opponents of the lockdown measures say they are only expecting a handful to walk through the no lobby this afternoon, and zero new concessions from ministers.

Sir Desmond Swayne told PoliticsHome there will be no opposition to the regulations which enact Boris Johnson’s timetable “because that would be counterproductive”, but there will be a “minor rebellion on the Coronavirus extension”.

“Minor because let's face it, I think the sting has come out of this to a large extent by the progress of the vaccination effort, and people will instead think to themselves why make trouble, when the solution is just over the horizon,” he said.

It comes after former lockdown rebel Damian Green confirmed he would not be backing the government today.

Writing in the Times, the ex-deputy prime minister, said: “I know some colleagues have been uneasy at the authoritarian nature of some of the measures we will be voting to extend today.

“I have some sympathy with them. In normal times, I would more than share that unease, but we are simply not in normal times.”

He said the rise in cases in Europe and the new variants shows efforts to defear the virus are not over.

“It is not worth risking our progress so far for the sake of a few weeks,” he said.

Other MPs cite the continuing public support for lockdown measures as to why any rebellion would be small, and the government’s whipping operation in keeping especially new MPs on side.But Mark Harper, the former chief whip and leading figure in the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), confirmed he will be voting against the motion.

“How is extending provisions of the Coronavirus Act to October compatible with the Prime Minster’s pledge that the Government’s roadmap will be a 'one-way route’ to ‘reclaiming our freedoms’ by 21 June?” he tweeted.

Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the CRG, said the vote was a "rare opportunity" for MPs to "say no to a new way of life in a checkpoint society".

"I was glad to hear the Prime Minister reassure William Wragg MP at the Liaison Committee that 'anything that is redundant will go' in relation to Coronavirus Act powers," the former minister said in a statement from the group.

"Draconian police powers under Schedule 21, which have a 100% unlawful prosecution record, must be considered 'redundant' to say the very least.”

He laid an amendment to the motion asking ministers to suspend those powers, but it was not selected by the Speaker for debate.

Another who will oppose the motion is Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, who said there is no case for extending the bill’s powers for six months.He told BBC Politics Live: “It goes beyond what the Prime Minister’s very slow roadmap predicts for getting rid of restrictions.

“We have to remember that these powers were given by Parliament last March as a very temporary set of extreme emergency measures, nobody then envisaged they would still be in place a year later, or still be in use 18 months on

“So I think we need to be very cautious about the dangers of normalising what is actually a very extreme policy response.”

Brady said extending the powers risks seeing a “permanent transfer of power” to the government, something Swayne also highlighted.

“My fear is that these things become habit forming, and the next time that there's a crisis of this sort, or a particularly bad flu season, who knows what controls will be imposed and whether we'll be ordered to wear masks and do all sorts of things that we've never done in the past,” he added.

“That's my fear, that there's long term consequences of all this.”

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